Bring a puffy into the mountains. (And a puppy.)

Good morning, sunshine! At Lake Trinidad, Colorado

Around day 13 of our recently completed 15-day road trip, we were listening to this episode of the Still Processing podcast. Hosts Wesley and Jenna set out to pick their annual pop song of the summer, but this time they settled upon a song of all summers, for African-Americans. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it: “Before I Let Go,” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. I’m not surprised that I hadn’t heard it, though I’m disappointed again in my musical and cultural education, if this song is something so culturally significant to an important portion of the population of this country. I heavily relied upon the blue Rolling Stone Record Guide as a teenager, to learn about Important Music and I didn’t think it had such gaps. I bought Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life (and similar) on vinyl as a teenager. I didn’t do it thinking I was learning about African-American culture but I believed the editors were thorough. Perhaps they weren’t.

And so the learning and growth of this decade continues. It’s good. Ongoing.

The podcast got us talking and thinking about: is there a song that says (sings!) summer to either of us, every year? That other people I know would agree upon? I don’t think so.

For me, a contender could be “Graceland” by Paul Simon. Nearly any song from that album, as it was one on heavy rotation in my boombox at the summer camp I worked at, my first summer out of high school. Or the Smiths’ “Ask.” As a kid and into my 20s, summer wasn’t so much about music, celebrating, family, friends as it was about the outdoors, adventure and seeing different people than those with whom I’d spent the prior school year.

Sunrise, somewhere in Montana.

Our smoky-scenery weary road brains then moved onto other lists or best-ofs. Like: what are the widest U.S. states, west to east? (Alaska, Texas, California.) What are the oldest US cities that are also U.S. capitals? (Sante Fe was a surprise!) States with highest percent dog ownership (Arkansas), states with highest percent cat ownership (Vermont).

Our last trivia item: The dog family tree created by somewhat recent DNA research. I was floored to learn that the Basenji appears to be at root of it all. And to find that Poodles, Pugs and Akitas are some of the older breeds. I wasn’t too surprised to learn that small, fuzzy dogs like Havanese and Bichon are in the same “clade” (family) as Poodles.

Until nearly a year ago, I never in a million years expected to become a Poodle owner. I was most familiar with Labrador Retrievers, as at least one was always in our household, growing up. I’d befriended a few lovely, loving mutts, as well. Early in life, I’d met a Toy Poodle that clearly ranked up with badgers, weasels and alligators in the mean animals list. I think Sheba was the one dog who has meaningfully bitten me: I won’t count Cooper’s running at me with a happy, open, teenage, big-teethy GoldenDoodle mouth, even though it broke skin several times.

I decided last year to get a dog by the one-year anniversary of Mom’s death: she loved animals so much! I have always wanted a dog. And life clearly is short. Steve and I had to get to work, with our research. It was a breeder who sold both Standard Poodles and GoldenDoodles, who convinced us to go with a full breed Standard Poodle. Steve has a dander allergy and according to her, a Poodle was a safer choice.

Rollo came home with us on May 15, 2021, exactly 1 year since Mom left this material life.

We started planning this road trip not long after he arrived: we wanted to introduce him to family! Even if a pandemic weren’t still going on, car travel seemed a better idea than flying with a pet, especially a young one. And we needed to make several stops, if we could.

The road trip needed to include the wedding of 2 close friends: we weren’t ready to board a 5-month old dog anywhere. The wedding was planned for Labor Day weekend, and so we planned the road days before and after the big event.

Most of our family lives west of here: in New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and also South Dakota. We hit 4 of those, and the states in between:

Here’s another handful of bests:

General Great Things

  • Camping!
  • A fun wedding in a beautiful location
  • Seeing a mom, a brother and sister-in-law, a dad and stepmom, an aunt and uncle, at least 15 friends, the various pets orbiting around some of them
  • Distributing Mom’s ashes together with my brother and sister in law
  • Hanging out with a puppy, moving slowly, seeing how he explores the world. I watched Rollo follow a Junebug in Colorado for a minute or so, keeping about an inch or two of distance. He eats ants, but apparently he’s not as inclined to eat things as big or interesting as beetles.
  • Beach
  • Mountains
  • Desert

New Places Visited

New Experiences

Along the 804 with a special pood
  • Staying in a hotel room with a dog
  • Camping with our dog and also with a friend
  • Hiking with a dog (on Oregon’s 804 trail!)
  • Rollo’s first drive-through (NW Coffee Bros. in Forks, WA!)
  • Rollo’s first beach (Yachats Beach, Oregon)
  • Rollo’s first deer. (And also a wide variety of animal scat in Mike’s back-40)
  • A camping meal that was 90% not fixed by us (thank you, Annette for the amazing deli dinner and we are so glad we had s’mores fixins to share!)
  • Dogsitter: my amazing brother. For 2 days! I don’t know who missed whom more: Rollo or us.
  • A wedding on the Olympic Peninsula, also first wedding in which bride and groom arrived by kayak and departed by jumping in the lake
  • Camping in the only tent in the RV loop of a (Nebraska) campground

Best New Board Game


Shopping On The Road Win

Finding a huge supply of Jetboil camp stove fuel canisters in Moab, Utah (thank you, Gearheads!).

Gear We Are Glad We Packed (or Borrowed)

Polite backseat passenger
  • My new (ish) car! The 2017 Mazda CX-5 proved to be well-designed and durable for this 5,600+ mile trip.
  • The Slowton car safety belt for Rollo. It kept him safe and just out of reach of the driver. Mostly.
  • Jetboil stove and several freeze-dried meals: 8+ hour road days (and a pandemic) meant that pee and/or gas stops often needed to be lunch stops for all three of us. We are still big fans of Mountain House’s Biscuits & Gravy and Alpine Aire’s Forever Young Mac & Cheese
  • Folding dog feeding station (same reason as above: handy for safe pandemic dining in states with scary COVID-19 stats)
  • Sleeping bags. Unless it’s 120 degrees Fahrenheit, my sleeping bag is always comforting when camping. And also on bunkhouse beds (like at Naturebridge!)
  • A 4-person Eureka Timberline tent. Plenty of room for 2 big humans and a medium-sized poodle pacing the perimeter like a sentry for part of the night. And compared to my trusty TNF Cirrus tent, it’s really nice that even with the rain fly on, you can see out the sides and even see some of the stars!
  • An insulated coffee go-mug. We packed camp mugs but one that fit into the car cup holders was key for allowing me to sip in my herb tea during morning drives, after the first injection of coffee before we got in the car.
  • A puffy jacket. I re-learned that you should ALWAYS take a puffy (insulated) jacket into the mountains with you. No matter the season. I’m grateful that Mike lent me one of Laura’s, when we departed the beach for the Olympic Mountains. I needed it in the morning and I needed it during the afternoon (outdoor) wedding!
Morning victuals and conversation, aside Lake Crescent

In Sum & Next Up

In the weeks and months prior to the trip, I was often …wistful (complaining) about having waited too long for a break from the grind of work, home routine, our house’s interior walls. We were both more than ready to escape, even though this was another one of those vacations that would include a fair amount of time with family. (What other kind of trip can you plan, in month 18 of a global pandemic, once the beloved are vaccinated?)

Steve and I agreed at the outset that this would not likely be a relaxing vacation, but it would be a rewarding one.

We were right and on the first end of that: We relished the several stints of staying put (2-3 days in Albuquerque, Yachats, Olympic Peninsula) and every single sleep. We are working on relaxing, now that the road time is behind us.

On the rewarding front: we were so happy to join in the loving and the festivities at Jon & Katie’s wedding! It was so good to spend time with people we love, over those 2 weeks. We worked really hard to give Rollo some exposure to new things, too!

Newly wedded: look at those smiles!

Next up: Iceland, over the holidays? I’d love a soak in a natural hot tub. Or maybe a Montreal food tour? When it’s safe, I’m looking forward to seeing new places, new faces, and dining out again.

We will be continuing with this round of Camp Every Month, for sure: we are 3 months into it, already!

Farewell, mountains (Black Hills). For a little while.